Likable India: Soft Power

by Dave

In Latin America, the soft power Indian gurus exert over the literati and intelligentsia is considerable.
With most Indian business houses controlled by families, this affords a natural affinity for Latam business groups with similar ownership structures. Given survey results, Indian business has better long-term prospects in mostly democratic Latin America than in authoritarian African countries.
Sadanand Dhume in

Earlier this month, the industrialist Anand Mahindra donated $10 million
to support the teaching of the humanities Harvard, the
largest gift to the program in the university’s 374-year history. Barely
two weeks later, the $70 billion salt-to-steel Tata Group plonked down
$50 million for Harvard Business School, the biggest international
donation since the school’s founding. In recent years, Indian corporate largesse has also benefited, among others, Yale, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. But these gifts also illustrate a broader phenomenon: India’s growing soft power.

The most obvious signs are hard to miss. In recent years, Bollywood-themed dances have invaded wedding celebrations from Sydney to San Francisco. In Britain, curry houses employ more than 100,000 people and generate about £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) of business each year. And if Yoga Journal is to be believed, an estimated 15.8 million Americans can tell a corpse pose from a downward-facing dog. Indian-born CEOs head such iconic global companies as PepsiCo, Citigroup and MasterCard. In the arts, reports of Indian writers scooping up literary prizes and directors helming big ticket-movies in Hollywood have almost become commonplace.

Scholars and journalists alike tend to make much of China’s vaunted “charm offensive.” It turns out, however, that when it comes to winning hearts and minds—at least democratic hearts and mindsChina’s top down state-led model is not much of a match for India’s decentralized private effort.

In terms of goodwill, India bests China in both Western and Eastern democracies.
For instance, according to a poll released last month by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Americans place India in the same ballpark as long-term allies South Korea and Israel. China elicits only about as much warmth as Venezuela and Mexico.

A recent BBC World Service poll of 28 countries says more or less the same thing. On average, more than half of Americans, Britons and Canadians feel “mainly positive” about India; only about one in six feel “mainly negative.” With China the numbers are reversed. Barely one in three from the Anglophone countries feel mostly positive about the Middle Kingdom; for more than four in 10 the emotions evoked are negative. Similarly, more Japanese, Indonesians and South Koreans feel positively than negatively toward India; with China it’s the opposite.Moreover, in many of the surveyed parts of Africa and the Islamic
world where democratic traditions are weak or nonexistent, India lags
China in popularity and, presumably, influence.

Nonetheless, against the backdrop of a prolonged bout of
self-flagellation brought on by the recently concluded Delhi
Commonwealth Games, India ought to reflect on some of its strengths as
well. For one, the country’s shambolic democracy may drive the educated
middle classes to despair, but it also appears to buy India a reservoir
of goodwill around the world.

Second, the legacy of the colonial experience, though painful in many
ways, has also proved to be a blessing. As an English speaking
democracy, in soft power terms India punches above its economic weight.

And finally, the economic freedom unleashed two decades ago has done
more to enhance India’s standing in the world than the four decades of
finger-stabbing moralizing that preceded it.